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Tyneside Neighbourhoods

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Daniel Nettle

5. From cradle to grave

Texte intégral

A child is born with no state of mind,
Blind to the ways of mankind.

Introduction

1Chapters 3 and 4 showed that adults’ social lives are very obviously different in Neighbourhood B than in Neighbourhood A. Residents of Neighbourhood B interact more with their neighbours, but trust them less. A question we can ask is how these neighbourhood differences are patterned across the life course. For example, is the social behaviour of children initially the same across neighbourhoods, with differences only becoming apparent once people have grown up? Or is the social world of young children different in different neighbourhoods from the earliest age at which we can measure it? How different are children’s experiences in the different neighbourhoods, and how does this relate to adults’ lives? These questions are the subject of this chapter. First, we will go back to the Observational Datasets and look specifically at the behaviour of the children on the streets, trying to understand how that differs by neighbourhood, and how the differences in child social behaviour relate to the corresponding differences in the adults. The next part of the chapter will be devoted to understanding how trust — which as we have already seen is a key indicator of social capital and prosocial motivation — varies with age. Finally, we will look at the behaviour of older people through the Street Ages Dataset.

Children’s use of the streets

2Using Observational Dataset 1, we can ask for children the same question that we asked in chapter 3 for adults: how do they use the streets across the day? Figure 5.1 shows the numbers of children (i. e. people judged to be of compulsory school age — 16 or younger) observed in main and residential streets by time of day. Children are generally more in evidence in Neighbourhood B than A. This is particularly true in the residential streets in the evening. You can see the clear spike in numbers of children as the school days end around 15:00. In Neighbourhood A, they continue to be around in some numbers until 18:00, whereupon they presumably go in for their dinners. Thereafter very few are seen. In Neighbourhood B by contrast, children come to play out in the evening and in large numbers. Of course, they could be playing outside in Neighbourhood A too, just within the confines of their larger gardens, but it is not my impression that this is the case. Playing out on the streets is certainly a rarity in Neighbourhood A relative to B. An important point here is that playing out is playing social: of the 290 groups containing a child observed on the streets after 18:00 in B, 59% contained more than one child, and 33% contained more than two.

Figure 5.1 Total numbers of children on the streets by time of day in Observational Dataset 1. Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.

3The pattern for the adults was that individuals in Neighbourhood B were less likely to be on their own than individuals in Neighbourhood A. Does this also hold for the children? Figure 5.2 shows the proportion of groups containing children in which there is just one child, two children, or more than two children. One-child groups are indeed relatively less common in B than A, two-child groups are also fractionally less common, and the more-than-two category is overrepresented. The groups in this category were sometimes large, containing up to 12 or 15 children. They use the streets to play traditional children’s games, or cards, or football, or they stand around and talk. Given UK patterns of family size, few of these large groups can consist only of siblings. Instead, the data suggest that children in B use the public space for greater social interaction with other children from other households.

Figure 5.2 The proportion of groups containing children with different numbers of children, by neighbourhood, from Observational Dataset 1. Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.

4What adults are accompanying these groups? The left panel of Figure 5.3 shows the number of adults found in the social groups containing children, by neighbourhood. Two things are striking about this graph. First, children are much more likely to be unaccompanied by any adult in Neighbourhood B. This relates to the greater frequency of playing out in B, since playing out is something usually done by children on their own; of the 290 evening residential-street children’s groups in Neighbourhood B, 175 were adult-free. The second striking feature is that mixed adult/children groups in Neighbourhood B are more likely to have multiple adults in them than equivalent groups in A. Children going about Neighbourhood A are most likely to be with exactly one adult; children going about Neighbourhood B are about equally likely to be with no adult, one adult, or more than one adult.

Figure 5.3 For each neighbourhood in Observational Dataset 1: (left) the distribution of the number of adults found in social groups containing children; (right) the proportion of mixed adult/children groups constituted by different configurations of adults. Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.

5We can drill down further into the configurations of adults accompanying children. The right panel of Figure 5.3 only examines groups which contain at least one adult and at least one child, and divides them up according to the configuration of adults present. As you can see, a large proportion of all adult/children groups in both neighbourhoods have one female as the sole adult. However, the predominance of this group type is substantially lessened in Neighbourhood B compared to A. The difference is not made up by an increase in lone male-headed groups, or ‘mum and dad’ groups. Instead, in B, there are proportionally more groups with two adult women, and more groups belonging to the ‘other’ category. This category represents all kinds of constellations of multiple men and women; there were 47 groups with 3 adults in Neighbourhood B (as against 9 in A), and 29 groups with 4 or more (as against 7 in A).

6How do we interpret these patterns? First, children are more socially autonomous in Neighbourhood B than A, as their greater propensity to be without adults and to be playing out demonstrates. Depending on your views you could see this as a danger: lack of parental supervision is the pathway to delinquency. On the other hand, you could see it is a positive: young people in Neighbourhood B have earlier opportunities to become independent social actors in the neighbourhood and create their own social networks. And they do. Children in B are less likely to be the lone child in a group and — we can reasonably infer — more likely to be on the streets with children from other households. Second, whereas children’s social behaviour in A is largely organized through the nuclear grouping of one woman and her one or two children, the groupings are more varied and larger in B. They will more often contain a pair of women and their multiple children, or some more complex set of adults and children. In short, the data suggest that children in B, as well as having more interaction with other children across household boundaries, are also having more interaction with the adults from other households too, via multi-family social aggregations. The adult Neighbourhood B pattern of greater social interaction on the streets therefore shapes, and is reproduced in, the social experience of children.

Social trust through childhood

7In the adult data, there is a paradox: the greater social interaction across household boundaries in the deprived Neighbourhood B does not lead to higher social trust, as common sense would predict it should, but actually goes hand in hand with lower social trust. We have seen that children are involved in greater social interaction in Neighbourhood B; do they also trust less?

8We can’t exactly answer this question, since we don’t have data on children’s trust from Neighbourhoods A and B. However, we do have data on social trust from the School Survey. To recall, this survey was from around 1000 school students from 8 Tyneside neighbourhoods other than A and B. On the deprivation continuum, the most deprived was not quite as deprived as B, the least deprived about the same as A, and there were a few in between. Thus, having social trust data from these neighbourhoods is an interesting potential corroboration of the association between deprivation and low trust, and may also tell us something about trust patterns in childhood.

9Social trust was measured in the School Survey with a standard question and a response on a 1 (not at all) to 100 (completely) scale. To display the data, I have split the responses by age group, and also by the Index of Multiple Deprivation of the neighbourhood (Figure 5.4). Note that a higher Index of Multiple Deprivation represents greater deprivation. As you can see, in all three age groups there is a social gradient in trust, with average trust lower as the neighbourhoods become more deprived. It is also apparent that the gradient is substantially steeper for the older children. In the most affluent neighbourhood, trust is actually higher amongst the oldest children than it is for the youngest. In the most deprived two neighbourhoods, trust is dramatically lower amongst the oldest as opposed to the youngest children. This is not true longitudinal data, so inferences about change with age have to be made cautiously. However, a developmental pattern consistent with the data would be the following: children everywhere start out about equally trusting. As they get older, they obtain more and more experience from the wider environment. For children in affluent neighbourhoods, this experience maintains their trust. In more deprived neighbourhoods, the experiences they have corrode trust, so that the older they are, the less they trust. The greater the deprivation, the greater the rate of corrosion.

Figure 5.4 Mean trust by neighbourhood deprivation and age group, from the schools survey. Lines represent best fits from regression models. Note that one neighbourhood has no data from the middle age group. Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.

10The combination of the observational data and the School Survey data suggest, then, that our paradoxical findings regarding social interactions and trust hold true for the lives of young people too. In deprived Tyneside neighbourhoods, it seems that young people have greater social autonomy and greater interaction with neighbours beyond the household, both with members of their own generation and the one above. However, they also feel less able to trust in others, and as they gain more experience of their social world through childhood and into adolescence, the gulf in social trust across the deprivation spectrum continues to get larger.

Social trust through adulthood

11The finding from the Schools Survey that, in deprived neighbourhoods, trust is lower in older age groups prompted me to go back to Social Survey 1 to ask the same question of adults. Do the oldest adults trust the least? If social experience under conditions of deprivation cumulatively corrodes trust, then you might imagine that the older you got under such conditions, the less you would trust (think of Edgar at the end of King Lear: ‘The oldest hath borne most…’). On the other hand, trust may have reached its long-term equilibrium level by early adulthood, which would produce a flat line of trust against age amongst adults.

12Figure 5.5 shows the relationship of trust to age by neighbourhood from Social Survey 1. Far from trust being higher in the youngest and lower in the oldest age groups, it is at its highest amongst the over-70s. Trust is positively associated with age in both neighbourhoods, but, as you can see, the slope of the relationship is much steeper in B. It can’t be very steep in A because there is nowhere for it to go: even amongst the 20-somethings in A, trust is around 6 on a 7-point scale. By contrast, there is room for an increase with age in B, because many of the men and women in their 20s give trust its lowest possible rating of 1. The pattern of trust against age in Social Survey 2 is much the same. You can also control for how long the respondent has lived in the neighbourhood. Not only is there no relationship between trust and number of years in the neighbourhood, but controlling for duration of residence does not abolish the age pattern.

Figure 5.5 Trust of people in the neighbourhood against age of respondent, by neighbourhood, from Social Survey 1. Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.

13Here we hit the frustration of having only cross-sectional rather than longitudinal data, for there are two different mechanisms that could lie behind the pattern in Figure 5.5 (or it could represent a combination of them). First, there could be a generational difference. Respondents aged 60 and above probably made their way in the world when Neighbourhood B was a less economically uncertain place than it is now, so perhaps the relative security they enjoyed then helped them set up solid social networks and a trusting worldview. The 50–something generation in B shows slightly lower trust: they were making their way 30 years ago, when deindustrialisation was at its height. The group with the lowest trust of all, the 20-somethings, have come into adulthood with industry long gone, opportunities uncertain, dilapidation evident, and demolitions going on all around them. It would be no surprise to find that they are the most socially alienated generation.

14This generational hypothesis suggests that the current 20-somethings will carry their low trust with them as they grow older. The alternative hypothesis is a developmental one: perhaps a person’s trust changes as they age. Trust has previously been found to increase with age between the ages of 20 and 90 (Twenge, Campbell, & Carter, 2014), whilst studies of related measures of social wellbeing have found U-shaped curves, with levels highest in youth and again in retirement, but with a long dip in the middle (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2008). Perhaps we are seeing something similar here. As children, we are buffered to some extent from negative social interactions, and so our trust tends to be high. We move into the difficult phase of becoming established as independent householders, our worries mount and our trust dips, and then we come through to the autumn of life having found our social place, with our greatest dangers and trials behind us, and so we can relax and trust more. If we attached the high-deprivation neighbourhood data points for 9-11, 12-13, and 14-15 from figure 5.4 to the left-hand end of the Neighbourhood B data points from figure 5.5, we would indeed see a very nice inverted U-shape, with trust very high at the starting age of 9, corroding by age 15, spectacularly low in the 20s, and gradually recovering to be high again by 70.

15Whichever mechanism — generational difference or individual change — is driving the pattern in Figure 5.5, there is one thing that seems to be the case: deprivation matters. If there is a generational decline in trust, it has been much worse in the deprived Neighbourhood B and is scarcely perceptible in Neighbourhood A. If there is an individual U-shape curve, then Figures 5.4 and 5.5 suggest that in affluent neighbourhoods the nadir of the U is really not very low: the U is a shallow saucer. In the deprived neighbourhoods, the U looks like a glacial valley, with dramatic social alienation its floor. So whatever the general dynamics, deprivation dramatically exacerbates them. This echoes our findings from chapters 3 and 4 that the social differences between Neighbourhoods A and B are large and basically negative, despite the greater level of social interaction going on there.

No country for old men

16What happens to older people in our two neighbourhoods? The Street Ages Dataset gives us some insight into differences in their activities. As you may recall from chapter 2, for this dataset Rebecca and Agathe walked transects of the streets during the school holidays and estimated the ages of all the people they encountered. In Figure 5.6, I have grouped their estimated ages into four categories, under 19, 20-39, 40-59, and 60+, and plotted the percentage of observations from each neighbourhood that falls into each group.

17There are a number of things you can do with Figure 5.6. The first is to compare the age distribution of people on the streets from each neighbourhood. What you see is a big excess of the young — under 19 and 20-39 — in Neighbourhood B relative to A, and a big deficit in the over-40s and especially the over-60s. The over-60s is the striking one; you only see about half as many in B as in A. It could be that the researchers were not equally good at estimating ages in the two neighbourhoods, but if anything you might expect people in B to age more prematurely, and thus for more people there to be classified as over 60 regardless of actual age. This bias would therefore work in the opposite direction to the pattern we see in the figure. Thus, relative to A, the streets of B are places with an excess of children and young adults, and few visible old people.

Figure 5.6 The percentage of observations in each neighbourhood by age group, from the Street Ages Dataset. The T-bars connect the observed percentage to the percentage that ought to have been expected given the actual age distribution of residents in the 2001 census. Data described in detail in Nettle, Colléony, and Coyne (2012). Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.

18The second thing we can do is compare the observed age distribution with what we ought to see given who lives there. We have the actual age distribution of residents from the 2001 census. This was some years earlier than our data collection, but let us assume that the age structure has not changed substantially. We can therefore work out a baseline expectation of what we ought to see on the assumption that all age groups have the same tendency to use the streets. This is what is shown by the T-bars on Figure 5.6: each T-bar connects the observed percentage of that age group to the percentage we ought to have expected to see, given the census data.

19Children and young people are, perhaps rather surprisingly, underrepresented compared to what they should be in both neighbourhoods. The pattern I want to draw attention to, though, is at the other end of the age spectrum. In Neighbourhood A, we should have expected that about 18% of our observations would be 60+. In fact, 21% were. The older people of Neighbourhood A are out in force. In Neighbourhood B, we should have expected 20% to be 60+. In fact, 13% were. The older people of Neighbourhood B have gone missing.

20Why is this pattern significant? There are several reasons. For one thing it reminds us that Neighbourhood B is a place where growing older goes badly. Deprived neighbourhoods in England have a slightly lower life expectancy than affluent ones, but the gap in expectation of healthy life is vastly greater, amounting to well over a decade (Bajekal, 2005; Nettle, 2010a). In deprived areas, people’s health declines more rapidly with age, and they spend more of their adult years prior to death in a state of disability. What we see in the Street Ages Dataset is at least in part the social consequence of this fact. The senior citizens of Neighbourhood A are in good health and use their time to be out and about on the streets. Many of the senior citizens of B are — presumably — indoors, restricted by their health.

21The other reason that the pattern is interesting concerns not so much the senior citizens themselves, but the effect of their absence on everyone else. We saw earlier in the that the most trusting social group, with the possible exception of very young children, is the over-60s. This is particularly true in Neighbourhood B. Along with trust go prosocial attitudes, willingness to uphold norms, and so on. This group is over-represented in the street life of A and under-represented in street life of B. In B, their place is taken by an over-representation of the 20-39s in particular. But that group, we can see from Figure 5.5, is the least trusting and, we presume, most suspicious and least prosocial of all the groups we have studied. More generally, crime, antisocial behaviour, and violence are specialities of the young.

22This is bound to have an effect on the social ethos of the two places. What would happen if someone collapsed on the streets? If there were misdemeanours or misadventures going on? The answer presumably depends on who was passing by; in A, you’ve got a much better chance that person will be a trusting 65 year-old lady, and in B, a much better chance she will be an alienated 25 year-old. The very visible absence of the most prosocial age groups may thus contribute, through a number of pathways, to the relative dearth of prosocial behaviour and the relative prevalence of antisocial behaviour in Neighbourhood B. Those pathways include the direct (the lack of the social sanctioning behaviour of older citizens contributes to a failure to inhibit the spread of disorder in public spaces) and the more psychological (the observation that there are mainly young adults on the streets contributes to a feeling of unease and menace). This is another loop with the potential to be self-sustaining: the more threatening the environment feels, the more senior citizens will not want to be out in it, and, with fewer senior citizens, the more threatening it then feels.

23The lack of senior citizens on the streets is a source of information in a much more general sense too. When we are young, we are under uncertainty about what kind of future we might have. We can use the older people we see around us in the community — their numbers as well as their state — as a source of information about what the probability distribution of that future might be. On the streets of Neighbourhood A, you see about 71 over-60s for every one hundred people aged 20-39. Most of them look great, too: expensively dressed, vigorous, and moderately likely to be carrying a tennis racket. Simplistically, you might imagine an unconscious mental computation in a 25 year-old that takes input from the surrounding population and says: it looks like if I have made it this far, there is a 71% chance of making it to a good old age in good health. I have lots of time ahead and lots to look forward to.

24On the streets of Neighbourhood B, for every one hundred 20-39 year-olds, there are only about 37 over-60s. The same unconscious algorithm would produce a very different output: looking around me, I probably don’t have much time. It is less than an even bet that I will be active at 60. The future looks neither bright nor very long.

25I have no direct evidence that these particular unconscious mental algorithms exist, but it is a plausible idea. The idea connects the Street Ages Dataset to another aspect of the School Survey. In that survey we asked our young respondents to estimate how long they thought they would live, and also to rate on a scale of 1-100 how optimistic they felt about their futures. The neighbourhood averages by level of deprivation are shown in Figure 5.7. As you can see, the more deprived the neighbourhood, the shorter respondents felt they would live, and the less optimistic about their futures they were. Sadly, they were correct: having been born in more deprived areas, they will live less long, and their futures will be less rosy in myriad other ways too. Their dim perceptions of their futures will in turn help perpetuate the social malaise of the deprived neighbourhoods. A wealth of research shows that a sense of the future as short and unpromising is a key psychological driver of nihilistic behaviours such as self-neglect, taking risks, breaking laws, aggression, and unwillingness to cooperate with others (Brezina, 2009; Caldwell, Wiebe, & Cleveland, 2006; McDade et al., 2011). What interests me is not just the consequences of people perceiving that their lives will be shorter and harder, but also the causes. The (at least partly veridical) idea that life will be relatively short and hard must have got into the minds of the young people in the deprived neighbourhoods somehow. But how? Some of them were only 9 years old. This brings into focus the key issue of psychological mechanisms: how do people turn the psychological inputs they receive (through their life experiences in their communities) into internal representations of how they ought to behave? The next chapter draws together what we have learned about this question.

Figure 5.7 Neighbourhood means of subjective life expectancy (years, left panel) and optimism about the future (scale of 1-100, right panel) by Index of Multiple Deprivation. Lines represent best fits from linear regression models. Data from the School Survey. Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 5.1 Total numbers of children on the streets by time of day in Observational Dataset 1. Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1908/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 75k
Légende Figure 5.2 The proportion of groups containing children with different numbers of children, by neighbourhood, from Observational Dataset 1. Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1908/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 53k
Légende Figure 5.3 For each neighbourhood in Observational Dataset 1: (left) the distribution of the number of adults found in social groups containing children; (right) the proportion of mixed adult/children groups constituted by different configurations of adults. Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1908/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 71k
Légende Figure 5.4 Mean trust by neighbourhood deprivation and age group, from the schools survey. Lines represent best fits from regression models. Note that one neighbourhood has no data from the middle age group. Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1908/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 254k
Légende Figure 5.5 Trust of people in the neighbourhood against age of respondent, by neighbourhood, from Social Survey 1. Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1908/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 71k
Légende Figure 5.6 The percentage of observations in each neighbourhood by age group, from the Street Ages Dataset. The T-bars connect the observed percentage to the percentage that ought to have been expected given the actual age distribution of residents in the 2001 census. Data described in detail in Nettle, Colléony, and Coyne (2012). Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1908/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Légende Figure 5.7 Neighbourhood means of subjective life expectancy (years, left panel) and optimism about the future (scale of 1-100, right panel) by Index of Multiple Deprivation. Lines represent best fits from linear regression models. Data from the School Survey. Image © Daniel Nettle, CC BY.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1908/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 72k

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